“For who would dare to assert that eternal happiness can compensate for a single moment’s human suffering”

For RPE 305 Philosophy and Literature we will be starting off by looking at Albert Camus’ novel The Plague. For your ‘summer reading’, then, you should at the very least read this novel – and more than once if you can! You may then like to read his novella The Stranger, which we will be looking at next.

The Plague can be read at many levels, but I suggest the best way to approach this is to imagine if you are put into a situation where you are trapped in a plague-ridden town and your whole world is turned upside down: you could die at any moment and your friends and loved ones are dying around you. How would you respond? How do the characters in the novel react to this situation? Can you blame them for their actions and who, if anyone, remains ‘true’ to him/herself? 

I would also suggest you familiarise yourself with the basic existential themes. A good starting-point is:
Flynn, Thomas, Existentialism: A Very Short Introduction, OUP (ebook), 2006.

Note this is a library ebookso you can access this on your computer, print it off etc.
Although it has its critics, we will also be looking at a number of passages from Sartre’s Existentialism is a Humanism (E&H), published by Yale University Press.

Feel free to post any of your thought here. 

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Assuming that truth is a woman – what then?

For those of you who will be taking the module RPE307 Close Philosophical Reading, we will be looking at Friedrich Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil. The plan is to have a close reading of one section each week for discussion, but I also intend to have an online reading group on this blog that is open to all. The module will not start until January 2014, but it will certainly do you no harm to start some background reading before then. Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil covers most of his philosophical ideas, and so you should familiarise yourself with a good, basic introduction. If I may ‘be so bold’ to recommend my Nietzsche: The Key Ideas. A revised, extended edition called A Complete Introduction to Nietzsche should be coming later this year. In addition, I recommend students acquire at least one of the following section-by-section commentaries on the text:

Burnham, DouglasReading Nietzsche: An Analysis of Beyond Good and Evil, Acumen Publishing, 2006

Lampert, LaurenceNietzsche’s Task: An Interpretation of Beyond Good and Evil, Yale University Press, 2004

Southwell, Gareth, A Beginner’s Guide to Beyond Good and Evil, Blackwell, 2008

As Nietzsche himself says, ‘the hardest thing to translate from one language to another is the tempo of its style.’ There are many translations of Beyond Good and Evil, and they vary greatly.  In my opinion, the Marion Faber translation is still the best in capturing Nietzsche’s ‘style’.


Nietzsche, Friedrich, Beyond Good and Evil, trans. by Marion Faber, OUP, 1998 (Reissued 2008)

As a starting point, you should read the Preface (a couple of pages) which contains certain major themes as well as introducing Nietzsche’s way of working. As you are reading it (and you should read it at least two or three times to get used to his style and way of thinking), try to be aware of these. In particular:

·       Assuming that truth is a woman – what then?’ What do you think Nietzsche means by this when you read what he says after?
·       What does Nietzsche mean by dogmatism? Who are the dogmatists?
·       What is Nietzsche’s view of much of philosophy so far?
·       Why does Nietzsche refer to Jesuitism and the democratic Enlightenment?
·       What do you think Nietzsche is setting out to do?
It will also help you to ‘get to know’ Nietzsche, and I highly recommend Julian Young’s book here. It’s long, but detailed and up-to-date, and it is also a philosophical biography, so you will get a very good idea of his views. You should also watch the excellent film on Nietzsche from the Human All-Too-Human series. 

Have fun and keep posted as I will be adding more on Nietzsche from time to time…and let me know what you think of the Preface! 


Syria, Iran, and why people should learn a thing or two about religion

On BBC’s Question Time recently (20/6/13), the Daily Mail journalist Melanie Phillips, when asked a question about the civil war in Syria, declared that Syria is the ‘pawn of Iran’ and that Iran should be ‘neutralised’. She stated that Iran is run by people who believe that if they ‘bring about the apocalypse’ they will bring to earth the ‘Shia Messiah’. 
This is one example where an ignorance of Islamic belief and practice can be very dangerous and why I think it is so important for people to gain some education in what are fundamental religious beliefs, and how this can mold a person’s political stance. Shia theology, amongst the ‘Twelver’ (or Imami) Shia anyway (Shia is, in itself, quite diverse) – which is the dominant religion in Iran (the rulers of Syria are Alawite Shia, which is not the same) –  does hold the view that the twelfth imam (the Mahdi) will return at a time of chaos and upheaval, and this will lead to a period of peace and justice. As practically every generation has experienced chaos and upheaval, it is certainly not uncommon for Shia Muslims to expect this time to come soon, but this is verydifferent from Melanie Phillips remark that they wish to bring about the apocalypse. This is, therefore, an example of very sloppy arguing from someone who claims to be ‘rational’ here.

Happiness?

So.. Happiness.. It seems to be everywhere at the moment. Not actual happiness – but discussion about it. You can find Justin Whitaker (over on his blog) talking about there being good and bad types of it : http://www.patheos.com/blogs/americanbuddhist/2013/06/beyond-happiness-buddhism-and-human-flourishing.html

He argues that the good sorts can’t be found by uncovering some secret – but that important forms of happiness actually come from extended hard work – particularly hard work on rooting out ingrained negative ways of thinking and behaviour (that’d be meditation and ethics then).

Over at http://dispirited.org/2013/06/12/happiness-and-the-welfare-of-others/ you can find me (and only one cat picture this time) claiming that perhaps we should worry less about happiness and more abut virtue.

Either way – and I know it’s a topic that my colleague Professor Melissa Raphael will be discussing at our Open Day on Saturday –  it seems to be a pre-occupation in Western society : but might we be tempted that, as people with enough food, clean water and no war in our daily lives, to perhaps think of it as a peculiarly “First World Problem”?